In college, I participated in my share of my psychological studies. I pressed the space bar every time I heard a tone for an hour. I allowed researchers to cap me with EEG electrodes and pick my brain. I willingly climbed into an fMRI scanner. But I think I was a rarity among students for actually responding to the fliers that decked the maze-like halls of the Psych building at the University of Michigan. Maybe the Psych grad students at my school were just really uncreative, but as I recall pretty much every flier soliciting participants consisted of plain white paper with boiler-plate black Times New Roman font and little tear-away tabs haphazardly cut into the bottom of the page — the tabs that, once torn, inevitably ended up as an incomprehensible wad in the bottom of the dryer. The largest fonts shouted the most general questions to passers-by who caught a glimpse in their peripheral vision and thought “Hey, that sounds like me.”
“ARE YOU STRESSED?” “DO YOU SOMETIMES FEEL SAD?” And of course, the low-hanging fruit of “DO YOU WANT TO MAKE SOME EXTRA CASH THIS SUMMER??” reeled in the strung-out and sleep-deprived, only to disappoint upon a look closer where the small print revealed they had to be left-handed non-smoking diabetics from East Asia to qualify.
But here in Williamsburg, I’ve noticed, people are starting to get creative:
These were business-card sized advertisements I found at the Internet Garage, my local computing hang out where, conveniently I used to work (free whatever, my geek boys hook it up).
Appealing, right? I mean, if you want to get people’s attention in this neighborhood, sex and cocaine are probably the ways to do it. But to the dismay of all the hopefuls who thought they had stumbled on a goldmine of hipster goodies, the back of the cards revealed the ulterior motive was a scientific study:
Maybe there aren’t judgments, but there certainly are assumptions. I couldn’t find any demographic information about sexual preference and elicit drug use broken down by neighborhood online, so I can’t speak to the validity of those assumptions. But I mean, there are a lot of people with tight pants and perpetual bags under their eyes in Williamsburg, so it MUST be true, right? Certainly if an institution is willing to spend precious research dollars on this kind of advertising, they would base their decision on more than popular stereotypes about the inhabitants of Williamsburg, right?
I found another variation today. Front:
Upon further investigation, it appears these cards are part of an effort by Hunter College to recruit gay males for three ongoing research projects on homosexuality, drug use and adherence to an HIV med regimen:
1. The Men’s Health Project is a new research study looking at gay and bisexual men’s sex lives and use of recreational drugs. Find out if you are eligible for our study that can give you the opportunity to participate in paid optional sessions to talk about your sexual behavior and drug use in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Eligible participants can be paid up to $340 for their time.
2. ACE – Adherence, Counseling, and Education is a new study for gay and bisexual men who are taking HIV anti-retroviral medications. This project seeks to increase adherence while decreasing substance use and other associated risk behaviors. Eligible participants can be paid up to $330 for their time.
3. Project SMART is a new research program studying ways to improve treatments for gay and bisexual men who are experiencing problems with alcohol, or who simply may be thinking about cutting down on their drinking, but who don’t want to quit drinking altogether. You may be eligible for a paid study of innovative approaches to help manage your drinking.
Is this provocative approach an effective method to narrow in on an elusive demographic that other institutions should take note of? Or is it misleading, presumptuous and offensive? Is it OK to solicit research participants using material that blatantly stereotypes them?
I don’t know, dear readers. But I do know that there are loads of heterosexual, HIV-negative hipsters who feel duped by these advertisements and would like their free samples of blow.